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Sepang MotoGP Test: Espargaro puts Suzuki tenth, all eyes on engine

“When we receive more power we are going to improve a lot” – Aleix Espargaro.
If Suzuki's MotoGP engineers needed any more motivation to find extra engine power, it was provided by last week's Sepang test.

Aleix Espargaro put the GSX-RR into the top ten despite lacking an estimated 10km/h of straight line speed (which equates to around 20 horsepower), no seamless-shift gearbox and lacking fitness after a training injury.

Engine reliability problems marred November's wild-card debut at Valencia and subsequent tests. It forced the factory, returning to grand prix for the first time since 2011, to concentrate on a cure rather than improving performance.

Suzuki lost five to six weeks coming up with a fix, but the GSX-RRs ran without serious issues at Sepang, when Espargaro set the tenth fastest lap time (+1.6s) and rookie team-mate Maverick Vinales was only two places further back (+2.1s).

“The most important thing is that I feel great with my group of people, with my crew,” began Espargaro. “I feel even better than last year already and the atmosphere in the team is really important for me.

“About the bike we made a really good improvement during these three days. We know what we need to improve but I think the gap to the other riders is not really big. Apart from the two factory Hondas we are quite close. I'm looking forward to the next test.”

Espargaro, who earned his factory chance by winning the CRT and then Open class for the past two seasons, refused to be drawn on exactly how much time the engine is costing him.

“I don't know. To talk about one second, half a second would make no sense. I think with the power we have we can be a little bit faster, which means we have to work more. And obviously when we receive more power we are going to improve a lot. Especially at this track because it is one of the fastest and most difficult on the championship. That is also good because it means when we arrive at other tracks we will be stronger.”

In terms of the features that could be enhanced at Sepang, Espargaro stated: “We improved the electronics a lot, not as much as I want because we still need a little bit more grip. We also improved the geometry of the frame. I like this bike a lot. You can go in with the brake and be really aggressive and for my riding style this is really good.”

The 25-year-old, who claimed his first MotoGP pole and podium last year, also confirmed engine reliability had not been an concern. “In Sepang '0' the test riders did a lot of laps with no problem. Then Maverick and me also did a lot of laps during these three days and no engine problems. Nothing. This is a really good improvement.”

But there is no doubt about Suzuki's biggest issue: “We need more power. We also need more power to understand if the frame is good and the electronics and working in the right direction. But we have to be patient.

“We don't have a date because we lost about five or six weeks trying to understand why we had problems with the engine. Now they start to work a lot. I know they are testing this week in Japan and we'll go to the wind tunnel this week. We are flying directly to Japan.

“They are also working on the seamless [gearbox]. They are working a lot to improve the bike but we don't know exactly when we will receive.”

In terms of his own power, Espargaro is still in the early stages of rebuilding fitness after damaging his knee in a dirt track training accident.

“I had a big crash so I was on the sofa for one month and I think now is one of my worst physical moments. Training for just 10 days, I really suffered during this test. As soon as I get back I'll train 10 hours every day to be better for the next test and I will be for sure 100% perfect in Qatar,” he declared.

The second Sepang test stars on February 23, with the opening race in Qatar from March 26-29.

As a 'new' manufacturer Suzuki has the same Open class technical concessions as the Ducati and Aprilia factory machines, including a softer grade of rear tyre.

Tagged as: Suzuki , Aleix Espargaro

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